Volume 18 • Issue 39 | February 10 - 16, 2006

Editorial

Don’t use school children as pawns

It’s hard to imagine how anyone could eclipse Gov. George Pataki’s policy of contempt for New York City school children, but Mayor Mike Bloomberg may have done the near impossible two weeks ago when he removed the money to build two essential Downtown school projects – a new K-8 on Beekman St. and a school annex for overcrowded P.S. 234 in Tribeca.

The mayor had staged public events to announce both projects and we assume he will reverse his decision after he plays his game of chicken with the governor, but using Downtown children as political pawns is not only reprehensible on its face, it undercuts Bloomberg’s legitimate case for equitable school funding from Albany.

“Building this new school fulfills a promise we have made to the residents of Lower Manhattan,” Bloomberg said in a prepared statement Feb. 4, 2005 – the day he announced an agreement with developer Bruce Ratner and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to build a 600-seat school on Beekman St. It is part of a residential project being designed by architect Frank Gehry.

Bloomberg had already identified $44 million of city capital money for the school and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has since pledged the additional $20 million that may be needed. Ratner said he will pick up any possible cost overruns. The mayor knew at the time he was in the middle of a long, difficult fight for fair funding from the governor and did not make his promise to build a school dependent on state money.

A state judge ruled Pataki is under-funding city children by $5 billion a year and the governor shows no interest in correcting the inequities. He spent tax money on lawyers to argue that he is not responsible for educating children after the eighth grade instead of using the money to help schools. He just announced tax cuts we can’t afford instead of using it for education. Bloomberg has plenty of compelling arguments to make in Albany without threatening projects he has already agreed to do.

By halting two projects that will relieve Downtown’s school overcrowding problems, Bloomberg completely undercuts his push to build more housing at the World Trade Center site and other parts of Lower Manhattan – which is already the city’s fastest growing area. Thousands of new residential units continue to open Downtown, and it’s pretty simple: more residents mean more students. The mayor’s action makes a bad situation worse.

The agreement to build the P.S. 234 school annex is intricately tied to the sale of city land to developer Scott Resnick to build an apartment tower on Site 5C directly to the west of P.S. 234. This project underwent public review and Dep. Mayor Dan Doctoroff also signed a letter to Councilmember Alan Gerson agreeing to the annex.

If this dickering delays either school project by even a month or two, it could have the effect of exacerbating the problem by a year because of all the complications involved in making major school changes in the middle of the year.

If the mayor wants to fight harder for the city’s fair share, we’re behind him. If he’s in the mood to play Texas hold ‘em over this, fine, but Downtown’s children are not chips to be thrown into the pot.


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